February 20, 2008


ICI Paints

Instant Seating

LBI Boyd

Santa Margherita



Empire West

ICI Paints

Instant Seating

Santa Margherita


Connect to...

Comments or Questions?


2211 Newmarket Parkway
Suite 110
Marietta, Georgia 30067




Understanding Formaldehyde
Recent news about trailers provided by the federal government to those displaced by hurricanes along the gulf coast has heightened the public's awareness about formaldehyde. Headlines pronounced that formaldehyde inside these trailers was making their occupants sick. This naturally occurring chemical can, in fact, trigger a range of health-related symptoms. However, formaldehyde exposure should not incite panic; it's important to understand symptoms, recognize potential sources, and learn how to minimize exposure.

Classified as a probable human carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, formaldehyde is a relatively simple aldehyde found commonly indoors and outdoors. The routes of exposure to formaldehyde include ingestion, dermal absorption, and inhalation. However, inhalation or respiratory exposure is what triggers the most common health-related symptoms. Formaldehyde exposure can produce many short-term reactions including, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation and, in some cases, trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. While the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known, potential long-term (chronic) effects remain controversial. Some studies indicate that long-term formaldehyde exposure can lead to cancer of the nose and throat.

Manufacturers widely use formaldehyde as part of the production of common household products and building materials. It is most commonly found in pressed wood, such as plywood, particleboard and medium density fiberboard, as well as finished furniture, textiles, fabrics, paints, coatings and adhesives. However, formaldehyde also is a naturally occurring chemical emitted at low levels from trees and other living organisms, including humans.

Because studies show that irritation may occur at low levels, government agencies and standards setting organizations have established recommended levels. The World Health organization recommends a level of 100 μg/m3 (0.12 ppm) or less for the indoor air. The State of California has calculated an acute reference level of 76 ppb (0.076 ppm) for one-hour exposures and an interim 8-hour recommended level of 27 ppb (0.027 ppm) for a longer term, 8-hour exposures. In the case of the FEMA trailers, studies indicate that the average formaldehyde level was 77 ppb (0.077 ppm), with highs reaching 590 ppb (0.59 ppm). Trailers containing this high-level concentration create the greatest risk to human exposure and health.

One of the best methods for limiting exposure to formaldehyde is to select low-emitting products. But sometimes finding products that have literally no formaldehyde can be a challenge. For one, almost all organic products have some formaldehyde. Plus, products labeled as "formaldehyde free" can still contain the chemical, because manufacturers are permitted to make this claim as long as they do not knowingly add formaldehyde. To further complicate the issue, products that have little or no formaldehyde often emit other potentially harmful chemicals.

Most recently, green building programs such as the United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED® program are requiring that products meet the State of California Department of Health Services or GREENGUARD Environmental Institute's (GEI) emissions guidelines, which require that recently manufactured products contribute no more than 13.5 ppb - 50 ppb of formaldehyde into the indoor air. Since formaldehyde emissions from products off gas with time, these levels should decrease with time. Products that carry third-party certification, like GREENGUARD Certification, help verify that formaldehyde emissions levels are low.

Be concerned about excessive formaldehyde exposure? Yes. But one should also know that traces of formaldehyde surround us. The public's focus should be managing formaldehyde exposure.


GEI often serves as a resource for publications and media outlets, providing information on various topics that relate to product emissions and indoor air quality. The following represent recent articles/features.

Contract Magazine
How Children are Our Sustainable Future

Environmental Compliance Bulletin (January 2008)
Green Product Use Offers Market Advantage, Safety
Reproduced with permission from BNA's Environmental Compliance Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jan. 28, 2008), p. 32. Copyright 2008 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com

Design Quarterly (Winter 2008)
Moving Furniture Towards Green

To read these and past articles, visit the Press Room/Articles under the "About GEI" tab of our website. Read More...

Upcoming Events

In the next few months, GREENGUARD will be participating in several events. For more information, please visit the Events tab listed under About GEI.

GEI Webinar (sponsored by GRAINGER)
Online Webinar/February 27th, 2008, 12:00pm and 4:00pm EST

Greenprints (GEI attending)
Westin Peachtree Plaza - Atlanta, GA/March 13th & 14th, 2008

International Window Coverings Expo (GEI exhibiting)
Georgia World Congress Center - Atlanta, GA/March 26th - 29th, 2008

GEI Webinar (sponsored by IFMA)
Online Webinar/April 15th, 2008, 2:00pm EST

For a snapshot of GEI's 2008 events, click on 2008 Calendar under the About GEI/Events tab. We will continue to update this information, and appreciate any feedback from you.

© 2008 GREENGUARD Environmental Institute